Dhaka (Bangladesh), Feb 8 (IANS) India and Bangladesh were declared joint champions of the SAFF U19 Women’s Championship at the BSSSMK Stadium here on Thursday after the two remained locked after 90 minutes of regulation time and eleven penalty kicks.
India led for the majority of the contest, riding on Sibani Devi Nongmeikapam’s early goal before Sagorika equalised for the hosts in injury time to take it into penalties. After an extraordinary shoot-out which remained locked at 11-11 as every single player on the pitch converted their penalties, the referee performed a coin toss to determine the winners.
India won the coin toss, but the decision was later revoked. After more than two hours of waiting, the trophy was shared. The All-India Football Federation (AIFF) Acting Secretary General M. Satyanarayan said India accepted the decision because they were worried for the safety of the players as a section of the crowd was creating disturbances.
“India, despite being declared winners after the spin of the coin, decided to accept the officials’ request for sharing the trophy as the situation was simmering and a section of the home fans was found indulging in creating disturbances. Since the security of the players and other team officials is our utmost priority, the AIFF decided to agree to the request of the organisers,” M. Satyanarayan said later.
This is India’s fourth age-group title in women’s SAFF competition history, and the first on Bangladeshi soil.
While Bangladesh edged India in possession in the first half, it was the Young Tigresses who were more incisive going forward. When Sulanjana Raul released Neha into acres of space before goalkeeper Swarna Rani Mandal swept the ball off her feet in the second minute, it was a sign of things to come.
The final generated considerable interest in the local football circle. With the prospect of Bangladesh winning a back-to-back title looming large, a big crowd thronged the stadium long before the final started. Their mood was dampened when India took the lead off a well-constructed move as captain Nitu Linda showed exemplary vision to release Sibani behind the Bangladesh defence. The pacy winger was clever enough to dink it the first time over the onrushing Swarna. Sibani could have added another just minutes later, as her half-volley sailed inches above the crossbar.
India, however, failed to defend the lead and conceded the equaliser well into the add-on time of the second half. Linda’s headed clearance fell onto the path of Sagorika, who slotted it past Anika, a carbon copy of her goal against India in the group stage at the same minute – 93rd. Back to the rest of the match, Raul was efficient in her role as a false nine, feeding Neha and Sibani on the overlaps time and again. Her sharp turns and quick feet often left the hosts falling flat.
India defended compactly, leaving Bangladesh with no option but to try their luck from a distance. Sapna Rani first sent a 25-yard shot high and wide before hitting her second effort on target, which Anika Devi Sharubam collected with ease for her first save of the match. For large parts of the second half, India looked likelier to get a second goal than Bangladesh an equaliser. In the 54th minute, the Young Tigresses had a glorious chance as Sibani picked out Neha with a diagonal ball into the box. Neha tried to lay it for Pooja, but Swarna swiftly gathered it before she could get to the end of it.
Neha remained in the thick of things for the remainder of the match. A few minutes later, her cross from the left was headed wide by Raul. Corners have been Bangladesh’s strong point throughout the tournament and they did threaten from those. First, Surma Jannat headed over Sapna’s delivery before the latter struck the crossbar directly from her inswinging corner.
At the other end, Neha also hit the bar in the 88th minute with a stinging left-footed strike from the edge of the box. That was India’s final chance of sealing the deal in regulation time because Bangladesh restored parity five minutes later.
Each one of India’s starting eleven players successfully converted their penalties in the shoot-out, including goalkeeper Anika, who scored the 11th and the final one. Bangladesh were equally clinical, but Anika would’ve felt luck was not on her side as she jumped the right way for six of the 11 shots but couldn’t make a save.